The Collaborative Diversity Conference is an annual event that is described as one that provides information and resources through a review of best practices and approaches that promote the value of diversity and inclusion. This event is free for all MSU students to attend, including graduate students.
The Conference started out with an opening address from Wes Pratt, the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at MSU. Mr. Pratt started the conference with discussing the theme that would be echoed throughout the rest of the presentations: “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” This theme gets to the heart of the challenges concerning diversity and inclusion. As mentioned in several of the presentations, it is great to attend the conference and learn something new but in order to have an effect you need to do something about it.
Diversity has always been an important issue, but with increased globalization it has now forced organizations to pay attention. It was noted that the most successful organizations are diverse because they attract and retain the best talent. Diversity also lends to greater innovation and creativity due to a wealth of educational and experiential backgrounds. However, promoting diversity is different from promoting both diversity and inclusion. Another theme that Dr. Kevin McDonald mentioned was that “Access without success, is useless.” This idea speaks to the nature of diversity as it is paired with inclusion. He noted that if diversity is promoted, but these individuals are not given a path to success (often times through inclusion) then there is no true benefit to be gained. This concept is something that any organization can keep in mind. You can attract a diverse pool of individuals, but if you don’t promote inclusion as well, it is unlikely that you will retain them.
Along the lines of promoting inclusion was the presentation about implicit bias given by Dr. Leslie Anderson. Dr. Anderson stated that everyone has unconscious associations that their brain naturally makes (implicit biases). When a person realizes they have an implicit bias that may be negative about a certain group there are things they can do to help their brain “re-wire” itself. If someone were to have a negative implicit bias regarding a certain ethnic or racial group they can try to have more positive interactions with these groups of individuals, thus decreasing their natural tendency to have a negative reaction to them. This “re-wiring” of the brain can be fostered by the promotion of inclusion. If individuals have the ability to work collaboratively with a diverse pool of people they will slowly be able to break down their prejudices.
A final theme that was frequently discussed throughout the conference was that of empathy. In nearly every presentation it was noted that if individuals tried to empathize with those who they perceive as different they may be able to break down their prejudices and have a more open and accepting point of view. The concept of empathy is something that anyone can learn and practice. Keeping in line with the theme of “don’t talk about it, be about it” I believe that practicing and training yourself to be empathetic is a small step that anyone can start today to help make a difference. Next time you see something either in your own life or in the news that you don’t agree with take a step back and try to empathize with that person. You may not agree with the situation but you can attempt to understand how that person feels. A quote that I heard that I believe will help others to practice empathy is “Any decision that any person has made was the best decision for them, at that point in time.” This quote helped me to realize and understand that no one is perfect, but most people try to do what is best with the knowledge that they have. Empathy is something that I am going to practice in my own life and I challenge you to do the same. – Alise Dabdoub, MSU Alumni, I/O Psychology Program